David King was the man at the microphone. Born Arthur Halverson 64 years ago in Milwaukee, King is a lounge singer who harbors a nagging sense that he could have made the big time if he hadn't spent 20 years as a member of the wrong gender. Now he is running out of money, and because of the cancer doctors found in his colon three months ago, he could be running out of time. King is on weekly chemotherapy but has no insurance, so he's counting the months (four) until he's 65 and eligible for Medicare. His doctor put his chances of survival at 50-50. King thinks the odds are more like 80-20 (in his favor, of course).
"I'm a fighter," he says, his voice as deep as a linebacker's. "I do a hell of a job, and I'm going to come through this alive, man."
The summer wasn't supposed to turn out this way for the almost-famous man who became a woman then decided, with divine inspiration, that he is a man after all. King had plans to drive his 35-foot motor home to New York with his ex- and future wife Cheryl Loudon, a 57-year-old with remarkable genes. Snapshots of Loudon in the late 1960s show a striking young woman, a "knockout" in the parlance of the day, with a slender figure, an arresting smile, and a big pile of brunette hair teased into a classic bouffant. Thirty years later Loudon's bouffant has been replaced by shoulder-length red hair, but little else about her has changed.
The two met in 1969 at a country club in San Clemente, California. Loudon was at the bar with friends; King was working at a nearby hotel and stopped in for a drink. "He walked into the club one day wearing an orange silk shirt and navy blue pants," she recalls. "He was tall with blond hair. I said to the people I was with, "That's for me.'" By then King had already been divorced three times and done a stint in the Navy. He'd worked a number of jobs -- traveling salesman, air traffic controller, railroad signal man -- but show business was his real love. His first singing gig had been a six-week stand at a Milwaukee hotel in 1963.
In 1971 he and Loudon married in Taiwan. A friend told King he could find work in Japan, but gigs proved elusive; the entertainer had to pawn his gold Omega watch for $150 to help pay for return tickets. Another friend later bought the watch out of hock for King, who wears it to this day. "I could never afford [to buy] it now," he laments.
When the newlyweds returned home from Japan, King went to work on the hotel circuit full-time. "They'd give me a room, and I'd work the lounge," he says. He was part singer, part comedian, all man. Sometimes Loudon traveled with him; sometimes she didn't. His time alone on the road allowed him to indulge an obsession with cross-dressing that had budded when he was a boy and flowered when he was in his twenties. As far back as he can remember, King has admired women more than he lusted after them. He didn't want a girlfriend as much as he wanted to be one of the girls.
Loudon wasn't oblivious to her hubby's propensity for things feminine. "I'd go through his jacket pockets looking for jewelry, underwear, lipstick," she says. "I used to be afraid to leave because I never knew what he was doing when I was gone."
She loved King but couldn't deal with a man who wasn't all man, so she left him in 1980. They were living in New Jersey at the time. She returned to California. "I got halfway across the country and almost turned around, but I didn't."
That same year King fulfilled what he thought was his destiny -- sex-change surgery and hormone therapy. David King became "Andrea Cole, a one-gal entertainment extravaganza." Genitally speaking Andrea had what King had always wanted, but her life on the road was lonely and loveless. "A lot of transsexuals think they are going to have all this great sex," King now says, "but it doesn't always work out that way. I had no feeling down there."
In 1987, while living in Atlanta, Andrea bought an ad in the personals section of a local newspaper: "Tall, attractive, blond, blue-eyed Norwegian seeks sincere gentleman and golfer." A Lake Worth businessman named Arthur Freeman responded. After two years of dating, Freeman asked Andrea on a two-week cruise. She accepted; they married in 1989 and settled in Lake Worth.
Andrea loved her life as a housewife. "I was a woman," King recalls. "I got along with all the girls; I played golf in ladies' club tournaments. I was tall, but no one ever doubted me. I was just Mrs. Freeman. Occasionally people would say something, but they never had the balls to go very far with it. I would just direct them to my husband, and that would end it."
Freeman never suspected that his strapping bride had been a groom four times, according to King. "Arthur was impotent," he says. "He smoked a lot and smelled bad, so we slept in separate rooms." In seven years of marriage, they didn't have sex, King contends, not once, never.
Freeman died of lung cancer in 1997. Andrea's first reaction was to redouble her efforts at being a woman. "I figured I would pick up the pieces and be more of a lady," King says. But Andrea overdid it with hormones, and her blood pressure shot up, landing her in the emergency room. She questioned her life and her sex change. She turned to prayer and joined the Catholic Church.
In 1998 King, whom his neighbors knew as Mrs. Freeman, stopped taking hormones, bought a closetful of men's clothes, and began surreptitiously cruising bars, trying to pick up women. "I just wanted to see if I could do it," he says.
And in 1999 he called Loudon. His timing was perfect. She'd spent the last 14 years in a loveless marriage, trapped in the mountains of North Carolina. Accustomed to being pampered and adored, she found herself married to a man who once gave her a set of tires for Christmas and washing machine parts for her birthday. "I had no friends," she says. "I didn't go out in 14 years."
They met again face to face, and she knew King was a changed man, or woman, as the case may be. "I saw it in his eyes," she says. Convinced her first husband was now and forever a man, Loudon ditched her second husband -- to whom she is still legally married -- without so much as a goodbye. "He went to work in the morning, and when he came home for lunch I was gone," she says.
Loudon moved in with King in Lake Worth, where the couple resided until they sold the place earlier this year for $58,000 and bought the motor home. When King got sick, they needed a more stable address and purchased a place at the Royal Manor trailer park in Boynton Beach.
Looking at King today, you'd never guess he still has a woman's plumbing. Sure he still has breasts, but he straps them down for performances. The Kings (Loudon has taken on that last name though they are not married) are a hit on the condo circuit, and they're booked, not solid but booked, through the season.
Because God set him straight, King now devotes his life to spreading the Word. Even his current stage name has its genesis in the Bible: David King is King David transposed. "I have a purpose in my life," he says, "and that is to help other transsexuals. If you find faith, maybe you can overcome these desires. Why go through something like this if you don't have to?"
Before he got sick, King told his story to eager media outlets including the Palm Beach Post, The National Enquirer, Inside Edition, and German TV, hoping to jump-start his career yet again. Now he's praying the publicity pays off in more mysterious, lucrative ways, because at $2500 a pop, the weekly chemotherapy treatments are quickly draining his savings. "If we can just get a book deal or get on Oprah, I figure the Lord will take care of us," he says.